Content Regulation / Censorship
Loughran v. Century Newspapers Ltd
On Appeal Contracts Expression
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On May 13, 2019, the Magas District Court held that the Federal Security Services in Ingushetia acted lawfully when they restricted internet access on eight occasions, all of which coincided with peaceful protests. In October 2018, the government of Ingushetia, a Russian federal subject in the Caucasus, approved a land swap deal with Chechnya, which led to mass protests that continued for months. Internet operators began restricting internet access during protests. One protester filed a lawsuit against the Federal Security Services and the Ministry of Interior, alleging that they ordered the shutdowns and by doing so restricted his freedom of expression. The Federal Security Services conceded that they indeed ordered the shutdowns, but argued that their actions were lawful and aimed at to prevent terrorism. The Magas District Court agreed with the Security Services and ruled against the protester.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal records. The information contained in this analysis was derived from secondary sources. It should be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated when an official source becomes available.
On September 26, 2018, the Republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Russian federal subjects, signed an agreement to exchange land along their borders. According to various reports, the exchange resulted in Ingushetia losing between five to ten percent of its total territory. The Ingush Parliament ratified the agreement and publicized it on October 4, 2018. The same day and for the following thirteen days, Ingush residents protested in Magas, Ingushetia’s capital, against the agreement.
On October 30, 2018, Ingushetia’s Highest Court declared that the land swap was illegal because the government failed to hold a referendum to ratify the land swap, as mandated by the Ingush Constitution. In November, a group of activists and opposition figures initiated the process to hold a referendum over the land swap. In March 2019, Ingushetia’s parliament proposed amendments to the law on referendums that would have removed the provision that mandated holding referendums on certain issues. After the news became public, a new wave of protests began.
During this first and second wave of protests, residents of Magas began experiencing internet shutdowns. At first, the shutdowns affected only mobile internet, but then expanded to wired connections.
On March 24, Mr. Murad Khazbiev, an individual who participated in the protests, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Security Services and the Ministry of Interior alleging that they ordered mobile internet shutdowns in June, October and November 2018, as well as in March 2019. He complained that the shutdowns generally occurred during peaceful protests, and restricted his right to express opinions about issues of public interest online.
On May 13, 2019, the Magas District Court held a trial and ruled that internet shutdowns were lawful.
The Federal Security Services admitted that it ordered the internet shutdowns on eight occasions. The dates of the eight internet shutdowns coincided with peaceful protests in Magas. Following the admission, the Ministry of Interior was removed as a defendant.
The Federal Security Services explained that it ordered restrictions to the internet to prevent “terrorist” and “diversionary activities.” The Security Agency qualified its actions under Section 3 of Article 64 of the Federal Law on Communication that obliged commercial and private entities to restrict access to the internet or other modes of communication upon receipt of a written request from law enforcement or security agencies.
The Magas District Court agreed with the arguments of the Federal Security Services and found that the shutdowns were legal.
Mr. Khazbiev will appeal the decision.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case restricts freedom of expression, particularly during mass protests, by upholding the broad discretion of Russian security and law enforcement agencies to restrict access to online and other forms of communication. Broad internet shutdowns, not to mention when they are implemented during peaceful protests, violate the internationally accepted right to freedom of expression. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council issued a resolution unequivocally condemning “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.” The judgment of the Magas District Court directly contravenes the Resolution and internationally accepted human rights principles.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
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